20 January 2008

anecdotes of BiH

I just spent the weekend in Mostar with fellow BVSer Katie Hampton and we have both agreed that these two stories had to be contributed to the group blog. The first is an entertaining example of the tricks foreign languages can play, and the second is a classic instance of the cultural west vs. east (catholic vs. muslim, etc.) rhetoric particularly prevalent in Mostar.

My roommate, Lauren, and her mother were in Mostar for Christmas. They were with a guy from Mostar and began to discuss the local language- Bosnian, Srpski, Croatian, whatever you would like to call it. Lauren's mother proudly exclaimed, "I know a word! I know a word! 'hvala' it means 'garabage'!" In actuality, "hvala" means thank-you. So where might she have gotten this mixed-up notion about garbage? The word hvala is written on all the trashcans throughout the Old Town in Mostar. Apparently Lauren's mom thought they were labeling their trashcans- you know, just in case someone thought they might be for something else. I think it's safe to say Katie, Katie Mahuron and I have all at least advanced beyond getting confused about the basics like "please" and "thank-you" in our quest to learn the language here but tackling a new language continues to be a tricky thing. There are many instances where exceptions to rules, slang, and accents throw us curveballs we are not expecting. And then there is also the fact that everyone would prefer not to humor us in our fumbling speaking attempts, and to just speak English with us instead. Last night we were with 2 Belgians, 2 Spaniards, a Croat, a Slovene and a German- the entire time everyone spoke in English because it was the one language that everyone understood.

Story #2: Today I was discussing living in Sarajevo with a friend of Katie's and mine who is a Croatian from the west side of Mostar. We were discussing the difference in the feel of the 2 cities and what people prefer. Obviously, as a loyal citizen of Mostar he prefers his hometown. He also emphasized the more Mediterranean feel of Mostar, which would be particularly important to people on the West side of the city who have ties to Croatia and the Adriatic. To further emphasize the difference from Sarajevo, he said, "Actually, we have a nickname here in Mostar for Sarajevo- Tehran." Katie and I found this highly entertaining- to a Croat, the greater presence of Turkish and Islamic culture which one observes in Sarajevo is NOT something to be celebrated. But then some Sarajevans might have some critical words to offer on Mostar if given the chance. There are plenty of rivalries here, some good-natured and some a bit tense. I think we're learning how to navigate them though as we meet more people here and begin to understand how to put comments like these into context. Perhaps Katie M. and Katie H. have some thoughts on this as well...

1 comment:

Katie said...

Wow, that story makes me feel better about my language skills. Thanks for sharing. It's always good to get encouragement even if it is through other's mistakes.